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Labour candidate Will Scobie

Wednesday 27th
posted by Luke James in Britain

LUKE JAMES speaks to the Labour candidate fighting off Ukip

UKIP members were last night expected to rubber stamp the selection of Nigel Farage as their party's candidate for South Thanet.

The south coast seat has been carefully selected by Mr Farage for his make of break battle for a seat in Parliament.

A high number of pensioners with a perception that immigration is the cause of persistent social problems in Kent's seaside towns is his draw.

South Thanet is indeed the one seat in which Ukip leads the race to return an MP to Westminster.

A poll published by Tory donor Lord Ashcroft last month put Ukip on 33 per cent compared to the Tories on 29 per cent.

And Mr Farage's plot was further boosted by news that sitting MP Laura Sandys is one of a number of disillusioned Tory women abandoning Parliament in May after a single term.

Panicked by the challenge from their right, the Tories have selected onetime Ukip leader Craig Mackinlay.

The mainstream media will feast on the spectacle of the pair forcing each other further rightwards and Mr Farage's campaign can expect unprecedented coverage from here to polling day.

But it is exactly this prospect that gives hope to Labour candidate Will Scobie.

South Thanet was held by Labour between 1997 and 2010 and pollsters have suggested Mr Scobie could come through the middle to claim the seat amid the right's split.

And speaking to the Star yesterday, Mr Scobie said: "From what we've seen on the doorstep, that's exactly what's happening.

"The other parties are only talking about immigration.

"Immigration is an issue locally, but it's not the only issue."

Shortages in staff at the local hospital's A&E department, jobs for young people and affordable homes for rent are the real issues on the ground, Mr Scobie reports.

Labour's candidate is familiar with the concerns because, unlike Mr Farage, he was brought up in South Thanet and has represented local people as a councillor since 2011.

"Labour has got a good offer in South Thanet in terms of improving local problems," he said.

"We're going to be focusing on selling that to local people and showing we're not just trying to out-Ukip each other, which is what the Conservatives are focusing on."

Mr Scobie is not dodging immigration on the doorstep but his message is clear - it is not the cause of local problems.

In his Cliftonville council ward, he says population growth over the past five years has "exacerbated" the areas housing crisis.

But he explains: "There's been a real problem with private sector housing for 30 or 40 years in Cliftonville.

"The underlying problem there is not immigration, it is that housing problem."

The replacement of credible climate change policies with rising rhetoric over immigrations is already driving "moderate Conservative voters" to the Labour cause, Mr Scobie believes.

He said: "A lot of people that voted Conservative in 2010 on issues they were standing for at the time, such as climate change, are seeing how the Tory party and, particularly the candidate they have selected locally, are going and they're moving away.

"The Tories have abandoned the centre ground have rolled the dice on trying to out Ukip, Ukip.

"In that time, we're the only party who is talking progressively about climate change, housing problems and how a publicly-funded NHS can meet local needs."

With a masters in European Governance from Kent University, Mr Scobie is well prepared to challenge Mr Farage's claims, whether its in front of millions on TV or a few dozen at local hustings.

But confident Mr Scobie is clear that, irrelevant of whether Mr Farage has been selected or not, that "our strategy won't change."

"You win elections not by smiling sweetly time after time in the media," he told the Star.

"You win elections by talking to people on the doorstep and having a message locally that can actually improve the area.

"I think we've got that and I'm going to be working very hard in the next eight to get that across in South Thanet."